It stings. It pricks. And it has a pungent smell which reminds us of a hospital ward. But still people love Dettol. It has been a household name in India for about 78 years now, the most trusted antiseptic liquid of Indian mothers from generation to generation. The Dettol saga began in the year 1933. Even today, it is the default antiseptic liquid that people use for cuts and grazes, bites and stings and minor burns and scalds. This iconic brand continues its successful journey even today, with no potential threat coming up against it from any quarter. The brand has become synonymous with protection from germs. It’s identity is so strong that the whiff of Dettol in a room is enough to give one the assurance that this is a space that has no bacteria or germs in it.
Though Dettol was launched as a solution for fresh cuts and wounds, in India it was first used in hospitals and nursing homes for first aid and disinfectant uses like cleaning wards, washing hospital clothes etc. Very soon ordinary people started taking it as a first aid tool for their familes. Apart from being a liquid for cuts and wounds and even small burns, it was used for bathing, mopping and even shaving. Over the years, Dettol became the trusted brand of the people - not only in India, but in several countries across the globe.
Today, Dettol is a formidable brand – one that has its iconic brand image standing tall. The unmistakable Dettol smell is very strong and clinical in nature, a kind of ‘hospital smell’. The painful fact is that it hurts when it is applied on fresh wounds. Mothers are happy when the child cries as Dettol is applied on the wound. Because she knows that the Dettol has started working. That it has started killing the germs and that the child is safe.
Dettol is a good multipurpose first aid liquid. Good to use for midwifery or to bathe with, to clean minor wounds and kill germs. When you use this for first aid, to clean grazes etc., you are reducing the risk of a cut or graze going septic. The sword on the logo of Dettol implies that the contents are intended to kill germs.
Dettol has become an essential household product today. People use it for washing hands, in bath water and even as an after shave lotion. The brand is owned by Reckitt Benckiser India Ltd. (RBIL), a fully owned subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser, a company that operates in 60 countries and sells its products in 180 countries. RBIL manufactures and markets a wide range of products in personal care, pest control, shoe care, antiseptics, surface care, fabric care etc. Apart from Dettol, the company also has other popular brands like Mortein, Harpic, Cherry Blossom, Lizol and Colin. All of these products have been successful in gaining a prime position in peoples’ perceptions through unique advertisements and excellent marketing techniques. For example, the Dettol brand has always focused on celebrating the mother’s role in protecting her family.
The antiseptic liquid market in India, estimated to be at Rs 150 crores, is dominated by Dettol which has about 85 % market share. Savlon, from Johnson & Johnson is the other significant player in the field with a market share of about 12%. The chemical name of Dettol is Para chloro meta xylenol (PCMX) and the main ingredient that defines its unique antiseptic property is an aromatic chemical-chloroxylenol. When poured into water, it produces a white emulsion which gives a cloudy look. This is because of the fact that some of the ingredients are insoluble in water.
The steady growth of the Dettol brand over the years in India and several parts of the world is a big business lesson too. The only brand that has dared to challenge Dettol was Savlon. Despite a massive advertising campaign that was spread over a long time, Savlon could not overthrow the monopoly of Dettol.
Though Dettol had a high penetration level and almost all households kept a bottle of it handy, they rarely used it. In order to stoke sales, Reckitt decided to expand Dettol’s usage beyond cuts and bruises. This resulted in a campaign that showed that Dettol could be used as an all-purpose antiseptic while shaving, rinsing babies’ nappies, as a general disinfectant and so on. At present, the brand has spawned yet product – namely, Dettol soap, which is a major contributor to the 230-crore turnover that the brand enjoys.
Dettol Vs Savlon the brand war
Here’s the story of how Savlon and Dettol came head-to-head in a fight to establish supremacy in the antiseptic kingdom. There have been studies that show that Savlon has a lot of advantages over Dettol. Test indications were that it is a more effective germ killer than Dettol. The reason for this is that Savlon is effective against both Gram Positive and Gram Negative germs.
Moreover, Savlon does not sting when applied on wounds as opposed to the sting that Dettol delivers. Savlon also scores higher on the scent front – the tests showed that Savlon’s scent was preferred to Dettol’s, which was felt to be more ‘clinical’.
After years of Dettol being King of Antiseptic Lotions, Savlon got a boost through this feedback and leapt into the arena, armed for a good fight. During its relaunch by Johnson&Johnson, the main areas focused on were Savlon’s better scent and its no-sting property. The product was positioned as an antiseptic that does not hurt while healing.
Dettol did not take the attack lying down. Their response was to target one of the most valuable Johnson & Johnson brands – Band-Aid. Dettol launched its own plasters. This was a blow for Savlon because the new Dettol plasters had the advantage of the existing brand value that Dettol had been enjoying for years.
Johnson & Johnson scrambled to protect Band-Aid by launching a series of variants in the medicated plaster segment. In doing so, resources were spent on defending Band-Aid rather than in advancing Savlon.
Savlon suffered heavily because it lost valuable support in terms of investment in brand building. Dettol had a brand equity built over more than five decades and it was not an easy task to break into that strong base. However, Savlon was pushed to a back burner after Dettol introduced the plaster. And so it is that even today, Dettol rules the market.